The Classics Come to Life! Learning with Ancient Rome Live

The Eternal City Goes Digital

Ancient Roman reenactments help ARL bring the city to life. Giorgio Cosulich/Stringer/Getty Images

It can be hard to imagine what daily life in ancient Rome might’ve been like. After all, it’s not like Antony left a manual on how to swagger like Caesar. Claudius didn’t jot down a guide to marriage - actually, it’s probably best that he didn’t, given his poor romantic track record. So what’s a scholar to do? Darius Arya, CEO and co-founder of the American Institute for Roman Culture, has an answer that paints the Eternal City in as vivid a detail as any Pompeiian fresco: Ancient Rome Live!

Launching April 21 – the traditional founding date of Rome, all the way back in 753 B.C. – Ancient Rome Live is an interactive experience for casual learners and ardent students alike. Arya says, “I've always noted and lamented that there are so few dynamic ways that people can learn about Rome's history online.” While there are individual projects or websites devoted to Rome, they’re often one-offs, “rather than a long-term, concerted effort,” and even on the best of sites, inaccuracies can abound.

Projects like the Digital Hadrian's Villa Project and Perseus contain straightforward academic content, “but I would never present the material in that manner,” says Arya. “I think we must look more at what's being consumed online today and how it's being consumed, in order to create a large, sustainable audience. We need to think about what the student, educator, and the average person interested in history wants.”

That doesn’t mean academics have to dumb down their content. Instead, “it just means we should put more effort in thinking about that global audience out there that wants to learn about the past.” He summarizes, “Educators and students know the shortcomings of what's offered online. It was time for something new,” adding, “That's why I wanted to create a new hub about Rome and all its aspects - its people, ideas, the places, monuments - in a clear, coherent format – [and make it] informative and engaging.”

Gladiators in the Classroom?

ARL is still in development, but it already provides engaging digital content designed for educators, students, and history fans alike. Arya says, “It had to be in an accessible, fun, mobile-friendly format…[and includes] videos with new, original animations, an interactive map, and live streaming.” Along with Alberto Prieto, AIRC's associate director for archaeology who has a background in filmmaking and helped create video content, Arya produced much of the site's material himself.

Of course, the best way to learn about Rome is to get up close and personal. “Nothing beats coming to Rome to learn about Rome,” Arya says. “What ARL does is [it] gives you the tools to do it online," providing information in a more readily digestible format. He adds, “ARL won't replace coming to Rome for study, but it can provide engaging resources to learn more about the city's rich, layered legacy, and instill interest in preserving its legacy.” Are you not entertained?

When in Rome...

“What exists online right now is not up [to] the possibilities that today's technology…offers us,” says Arya. “ARL is taking full advantage of cheap costs for producing videos and streaming on-site for a unique presentation of Rome's history.

And we have the expertise to back it up!” By using apps like Meerkat and Periscope to film live events, including Rome’s birthday celebration in the Circus Maximus, ARL can bring classics to a whole new audience. 

Besides its accessible videos, ARL also contains a clickable map of Rome and more in-depth material (lesson plans, interviews) available for a small subscription fee. You can even contribute to the site through the AIRC, a 501c3 public charity. Later this year, Arya plans to release an ebook and app, as well as a free digital course. New tools for learning Latin are in high demand, as it is far from a dead language. Latin is an increasingly popular subject for young students. High schools, in particular, are seizing digital opportunities more than ever as engaging, cost-effective alternatives to print stalwarts like the beloved Cambridge Latin Course.


Take a visual stroll through the ancient city to get your footing on the Seven Hills, or learn about the hot spots frequented by centurions and senators alike. And, while Augustus didn't leave a memoir behind, you can relive his life and reign on ARL. More of a fan of the Republic? Trace the history of the res publica in an informative video. Looking for info on later Roman history? ARL has that in spades, as well: stroll through medieval Roman landmarks to get a sense of Rome's historical layers. You can even live-stream major Roman cultural events on the website. Not even Julius Caesar had that privilege.

The site isn’t limited to English-speaking students, either. “There are so many new opportunities for collaboration with ARL. For example, a number of our classics colleagues are busily translating the videos into Latin for ARL to become a bilingual experience: English and Latin, another unique resource for students and educators in the classics.”

On top of that is Arya’s own experience in television presentation and archaeological preservation. With his expertise and passion at the helm, ARL is sure to take classrooms – and the digital space – by storm.